Cecily Brown breathes life into oil on canvas by delighting in the uniquely haptic, fecund and tactile qualities of the medium. With its sumptuous fluidity, Where They Are Now
is utterly redolent of these defining characteristics of Brown’s oeuvre. The work derives from a series of paintings based on the cover art, composed by the photographer David Montgomery, for The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s seminal 1968 album Electric Ladyland:
an image reminiscent of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ Le Bain turc
(1862) and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
(1907) in which nineteen nude women languorously pose before the viewer. Brown’s reinterpretation of this image in this series, however, is uniquely synesthetic and uncanny. Exhibited alongside the present work at Gagosian Gallery in LA, the works Combing the Hair (Côte d’Azur)
(2013) and the triptych of Untitled
(2013) depict, respectively, an effusive mêlée of delicate coral forms lined with blue rivulets, and an oneiric scene that bears striking resemblance to Montgomery’s photograph in which a number of indistinct, nude figures stare out across a tripartite stretch of linen. Forming part of her more subtle and suggestive later work, Where They Are Now
channels a whole host of further art historical influences; falling somewhere between the Baroque debauchery of Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece Bacchanal
1615), and the luscious, fleshy brushstrokes of Willem de Kooning’s Untitled VI
(1980). By contrast with the more explicit romps of her earlier work, such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
(1997-98), Where They Are Now
operates on the tantalising interstice between abstraction and figuration. The viewer rides swells of anticipation as they recognise and lose track of figures within colour and form, experiencing a wave-like pleasure augmented by the deferral of its resolution. As Joanna Drucker writes, Brown’s works maintain a “state of prolonged tension on the edge of final definition, deferring closure” (Joanna Drucker, ‘Erotic Method’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown: Paintings 2003 - 2006
, 2006, p. 5). Explicitly influenced by a wide-range of historic artists while being steadfastly original in all of her creations, Cecily Brown is at the forefront of the contemporary artists driving a twenty-first century revival of painting.
Brown’s work has long explored the play involved in both creating and consuming a painting; a play she has described in powerfully erotic terms. Distinguished from the more conceptual work of the YBAs in the 1990s London scene from which she emerged, hers is crucially an art of the body and its interactions: “the boundaries of painting excite me” (Cecily Brown in conversation with Perri Lewis, ‘Cecily Brown: I Take Things Too Far When Painting’, The Guardian, 20 September 2009, online). Of her process, she reveals: “I always start in quite a loose and free way… I often put down one ground colour to begin with and then play off that. For the first day or two, everything moves very quickly – sometimes almost too quickly – then there’s often this very protracted middle period of moving things around, changing things… I’ve discovered that the more I paint, the more I want to paint” (Ibid). Regarding the relationship between her painting and the viewer, Brown describes the need for desirability in her work, for a relationship of reciprocity and anticipation: “I have always wanted to make paintings that are impossible to walk past, paintings that grab and hold your attention. The more you look at them, the more satisfying they become for the viewer” (Ibid).
2013 was an extremely productive year for Brown. Capturing a torrent of deconstructed, euphoric sensation, Where They Are Now channels a wide range of contemporary media, ranging from film and advertisements through to magazine articles and dreams, and heralds the finest work of Brown's recent practice.